SOUTH PORTLAND — Looking for the scoop on the reopening of Red’s Dairy Freeze?

Laura Bolling, the owner’s daughter, is coy about a specific date. Rather than dishing out the information, Bolling this week offered nuggets, like the little pieces of candy in Red’s’ tasty Nor’easters.

The countdown can be measured in days, not weeks, she said. And, the total number of days is less than seven.

“It’s coming together,” the 23-year-old said Wednesday at the Cottage Road business. “There are a lot of last-minute things to do. We’re just trying to pull it all together.”

It’s been nearly 10 months since an early morning electrical fire gutted Red’s and brought an early end last year to one of southern Maine’s summertime ice cream traditions.

Since then there has been much public anticipation and distress about whether and when the ice cream shop, a neighborhood icon since 1952, would reopen.

For many local residents, the annual opening of Red’s is a sure sign of spring.

Sheldon Gregoire, Bolling’s fiance, said that Red’s owner Chris Bolling planned to issue a press release on Friday announcing the official reopening date.

Gregoire, a Portland firefighter and paramedic, said it was difficult to help the family sift through the ashes after the fire.

“(But) They’ve been very optimistic through the whole process,” he said.

When opening day does arrive, it will mark a new beginning for the Bolling family.

Laura Bolling said she has been amazed by the outpouring of community support after the fire and during the rebuilding process. She said she is heartened that photo updates on the ice cream stand’s Facebook page have generated dozens of comments.

After the fire, customers and neighbors gathered in the rain to watch to watch the old building being demolished.

But now, a full-scale reproduction of the original building is nearly finished. “Red’s Dairy Freeze” is spelled out again in red letters on the white exterior, with a giant soft-serve ice cream cone once again hanging above the awning.

Although temperatures are still in the teens and the ground is still covered by several feet of snow, Bolling said people have already started pulling into the freshly plowed parking lot, hoping to get a fix of that tasty soft-serve ice cream. 

“We never really knew what an impact Red’s had on this community,” she said. “It really means a lot to my dad and my family.”

For Bolling, that family extends to the 18 employees who will be returning to work this year. Many of them have worked at Red’s for years.

“We’re all family,” she said. “I know that sounds a little tacky.”

When Red’s reopens, Bolling said patrons should not expect a lot of new frills – it’s going to be the same faces serving the same ice cream, only through a newer window.

That will undoubtedly be enough for friends and fans, who were given a promise painted in red letters on a white piece of plywood nailed to the charred ruins after the fire:

“We’ll be back.”

“It’s going to be crazy,” Bolling said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]

Update: Red’s Dairy Freeze will reopen at noon on Friday, March 4, according to a press release issued Thursday night by Laura Bolling. The first customers served will be South Portland and Cape Elizabeth firefighters who battled the blaze that destroyed the business on May 16, 2010.

Sidebar Elements

Laura Bolling, right, and fiance Sheldon Gregoire in front of the rebuilt Red’s Dairy Freeze on Cottage Road in South Portland on Wednesday. The business, owned by Bolling’s father, was gutted by an electrical fire last May and will reopen soon.

A curious patron peers into a window at Red’s Dairy Freeze in South Portland on May 16, 2010, after a fire did significant damage to the business. Employees painted the message on boards covering the front windows.

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